Dec 3

A tale of insects and danger

Category: animals

Since my mind is on bugs, here is the strangest bug I ever saw at home. One night in the early fall I found this thing on the front porch. It was so unusual, it had to be photographed, and I dropped whatever I was doing. I captured it, brought it inside, and examined it for 3 or 4 hours while photographing it from every angle.

It moved slowly, unthreateningly, like a Parkinson’s sufferer, like something that really wanted to look like a plant moving in the breeze… Notice the strange head and eye placement, and the beautifully adapted feet. And what is that thing on its back?

Eventually, I got around to identifying it and looked it up. Turns out it was a “wheel bug.” Wikipedia has a typical entry for this animal:

This insect is considered one of the largest true bugs in existence… It has one of the most developed mouth parts among true bugs… The bug plunges its beak into its victim… It then injects enzymes into the victim, paralyzing them and dissolving their insides, and proceeds to drain all of the victim’s bodily fluids.

OK, interesting so far, but not too disturbing, since many “bugs” and spiders feed this way. Then I read:

The bite of a wheel bug is painful and may take months to heal (sometimes leaving a small scar), so caution is advised when handling them. The wheel bug is also noted to be very vicious in the wild…

Ok. Time to be free, big bug! I gingerly took it outside and coaxed it onto a branch, getting away unscathed after handling the bug that delivers “one of the most painful bites of any insect in North America, 10 times more painful than a bee sting.” I continued my research:

It possesses two scent sacs (red-orange in colour) that it everts from its anus, especially when disturbed.

Well, that explained something I had noticed, also. It definitely put a musky smell into the air. Great. I “disturbed” one of the most painfully-biting bugs on the continent.  I hadn’t known that, but looking at that “beak” I suspected that it had potential and never let it touch my skin – I always handled it with sticks or in containers.

Possibly the strangest thing of all – this animal is common!  I’m almost 40, how did I never see this before?  There are always miraculous discoveries waiting right under our noses – sometimes, potentially painful ones!


5 Comments so far

  1. kyle cassidy December 3rd, 2008 11:14 AM

    fabulous. though i’d like to see it with something that shows its scale, i’m wondering “how big is big?”

    fabulous photos.

  2. kyle cassidy December 3rd, 2008 11:16 AM

    i also prefer the top photo flipped — something about it being “right side up” or “head side up” (though for the life of me, i can’t find anything that looks like a “head” on it — makes it easier to visualize.

    i love the sort of moose antler thing it’s got going on there.

  3. Dan December 3rd, 2008 4:14 PM

    That’s exactly how I think of it – as a “moose antler/bear shoulder” protuberance. As for gauging size, the “wheel” has the radius of a dime. I will think about that the next time I’ve got a bug in the “studio.”

  4. Austin November 11th, 2014 2:09 PM

    I have seen this bug only a handful of times
    The first time I saw it I was intrigued so I garbed
    It barehanded like a dummy and it had the most
    Painful bite I had ever gotten from an insect.
    Luckily it only took a couple weeks to heal and
    No scar.

  5. Dan Greenspan November 11th, 2014 2:24 PM

    I’m glad you didn’t get a more serious injury! Thanks for your comment.

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